Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hostis populi

A plot written by Ibsen in 1882 could reflect current conflicts nowadays. Whats first: Your money or your health?. I went to the theatre last week. Great "mise en escène".
The summary:
Doctor Thomas Stockmann is a popular citizen of a small coastal town in Norway. The town has invested a large amount of public and private money towards the development of baths, a project led by Stockmann and his brother, Peter, the Mayor. The town is expecting a surge in tourism and prosperity from the new baths, which are said to be of great medicinal value, and as such, a source of great local pride. Just as the baths are proving successful, Stockmann discovers that waste products from the town's tannery are contaminating the waters, causing serious illness amongst the tourists. He expects this important discovery to be his greatest achievement, and promptly sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which includes a proposed solution which would come at a considerable cost to the town.
To his surprise, Stockmann finds it difficult to get through to the authorities. They seem unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue and unwilling to publicly acknowledge and address the problem because it could mean financial ruin for the town. As the conflict develops, the Mayor warns his brother that he should "acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community." Stockmann refuses to accept this, and holds a town meeting at Captain Horster's house in order to persuade people that the baths must be closed.
The townspeople — eagerly anticipating the prosperity that the baths will bring — refuse to accept Stockmann's claims, and his friends and allies, who had explicitly given support for his campaign, turn against him en masse. He is taunted and denounced as a lunatic, an "Enemy of the People." In a scathing rebuttal of both the Victorian notion of community and the principles of democracy, Stockmann proclaims that, in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the multitude, which is easily led by self-advancing demagogues. Stockmann sums up Ibsen's denunciation of the masses with the memorable quote "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone." He also says: "A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong.
 I deeply disagree with this final generalization. The details are important.

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